"I don't have the budget right now, but I might do for future jobs, could you do this one for me for free and..."
What often ends this sentence is predictable but can often be insulting and, at times, infuriating. As a freelance videographer it's something I often hear, more times than I actually get offered a financial reward in exchange for my services. I would say that the video and film industry is in a race to the bottom, but that would be suggesting that we're not already there, when in actual fact we're in the basement. We've gone subterranean when it comes to getting paid to do our jobs.
A "race to the bottom", as the phrase suggests, is when the market pushes the price of something as low as it can go. Usually the drive stops when the item or service being haggled reaches the point of break even, when it's no longer making a profit. In the world of video production we've long since passed the bottom, to break even would be a dream, unfortunately we've got to a point where it's costing more in expenses and materials than we're getting back in financial reward. The problems stem from supply and demand.
There is lots of demand for high quality event video production, the amount of emails I get daily requesting services is testament to that effect, however the supply drastically outweighs the demand. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency 55,850 students were enrolled in film and media related courses at University in the 2011/2012 academic year; by anyone's measure that's a lot of potential videographers and those are only the ones who applied for degree level courses. In that figure we're not counting the film students who dropped out after A Levels and are looking for work in an over competitive industry, we're not even taking into account those who haven't studied video production at all but are more than competent in producing good quality content.
"It'll be good experience for your CV."
Here's one of the problematic endings to the sentence we started with. In an industry where the access to entry is fairly low and easy it's experience that makes and breaks careers, you're only as good as the last job you completed. Tens of thousands of budding and qualified film students pour out of institutions every year, eager to start their foray into the exciting world of video production, but the one thing that they lack is experience. Foolishly believing that lots of experience will get them a lucrative paid gig these students take on as much work as they can and they do it for free, forgetting that come the following August there'll be a whole load of fresh new students dumped on the market who will, of course, offer to do all of the work for free.
As we've discussed previously video production is inherently expensive to do properly. Your basic single ENG camera kit rental will cost around £150, additionally you've got to take into account insurance, travel and consumables. On average the costs for filming a simple event start at around £200. That's before any staff get paid for shooting and that's not taking into account editing (laptops, hard drives and software aren't free). "Could you film this one for free", unfortunately, often equates to the video producer paying £200 of their own money to film your event... they're effectively paying to work, a concept that seems rather alien to me as someone who works to keep roof over head and food in mouth.
"I'll give you lots of exposure on my mailing list / website / Twitter account / at the event."
This is another regular 'bargaining chip' that's used as encouragement to get a videographer to work for free. A few thoughts occur when this offer is made, the primary one being that if your mailing list / website / whatever is truly as good for me as actual payment why aren't you selling this kind of access in order to pay your event videographers? Another is that if I do end up filming your event anyway I've already got all of the exposure that I need. I'm the guy with the big broadcast camera, the one who has his name in an end credit slate of the final video. If there are people who attend your events, or watch your videos, and want video production services they'll most likely get in touch with me at the event or Google the name that appears in the credits afterward.
This isn't to say that all pro-bono favour jobs are bad, just most of them. Occasionally I'll reach out to a new event that's just starting out, finding their feet, and film an event for costs only. The understanding being that the event is a regular occurrence and that next time I'm guaranteed work, although this strategy can be a bit hit and miss. Another tactic is to slightly lower my rate for regularly occurring events and work. If I know that every month you're going to require my video services I can afford to knock a little bit off thanks to the security of the work. However it must be understood that I will never do a job for free, that is to say that I won't shoot a video where my expenses (at least) are not covered. It doesn't matter how much promotion you promise or can give me, nor how much experience I get from it, I simply cannot afford to be out of pocket. This is a stance I strongly attempt to encourage others in my industry to adopt.
When we go to work we should have two primary goals and anything else that happens is a nice bonus. Without achieving at least those goals we can't do the things we love. Let's get ourselves out of this basement and at least aim to keep roof over head and food in mouth.